Today’s guest post comes from Champion PT and Performance Strength Coach Rob Sutton (@). Rob discusses the health concerns of many pre-workout supplements, and for good reason! Rob shares a very personal experience of how he really hurt his own health from this class of supplements. Great info for everyone. I know I’m sticking to by cup of black coffee as my “pre-workout” supplement!
Are Pre-Workout Supplements Good for You? Taking a Look Behind the Smoke Screen
When it comes to making gains in the gym, whether that be weight loss or muscle gain, many people often turn to supplements to help them reach their goals. A high number of gym goers use pre -orkout supplements to enhance their training experience in hopes of getting a better training session. This “pre-workout” class of supplements are promoted to give you more energy and stamina to get through a tough workout.
While there is most certainly a time and place for the right dietary supplements, I have a problem with the majority of these pre-workout supplements, which essentially are stimulants.
The Problem with the Supplement Industry
The supplement industry is a juggernaut. According to Forbes, what’s known as the Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements group, reported nutritional supplements alone produced about $32 billion in revenue in 2012. By the year 2021, nutritional supplements plan to double in revenue to about $60 billion. Gone are the times where it was only meatheads looking to have muscles popping out of their eyelids, buying supplements. The general public and athletes everywhere are now using supplements to aid in their diet and increase performance.
My problem with the supplement industry is the misleading, sneaky, and deceptiveness that is present.
Companies use big words and outrageous claims to market their product to consumers. “Explosive Energy”, “Super Crazy Pumps”, “Increase Strength 317%”, “Growth Hormone Matrix”. All include buzzwords to help aid in claims and gimmicks that the companies want you to believe. And every company claims to provide the highest workout energy on the market. All use colorful labels and big fonts to blind your senses.
Have you ever read through the directions for pre workout supplements? Here some examples from popular pre-workout supplements:
- “Warning: Use only in accordance with directions for use and warnings.”
- “DO NOT exceed recommended dosage due to the extremely potent nature of ingredients contained in….”
- “Assess your tolerance”.
What are we putting into our bodies? There are more warning labels on these than there are on heavy duty cleaning products.
How Pre-Workout Supplements Hurt My Health
Now, I was young once and fell into these traps before like so many others. Although, that has come with a price.
About 7 years ago I began experiencing an abnormal feeling in my chest. It was quite obviously in my heart. It felt as if my heart was skipping a beat. It was happening fairly often and I would notice it mostly at rest. I admit it was something I had ignored for many years. As it began to get worse, it was time to seek out medical advice. Long story short, I was diagnosed in 2012 with (Pre-Mature ventricular contractions, PVC’s). Through several holter monitors and experiments with supplements I was taking, I only remained using whey protein. After cutting out pre workout supplements, my PVC’s were diminished by 97.7%! It was determined the PVC’s were caused by a supplement I had been taking in years past. All bought through local nutrition stores.
There is 1 ingredient in particular that may have caused the heart arrhythmia that I continue to feel every single day. It’s called 1, 3 dimethylamylamine, or DMAA for short.
History of 1, 3 Dimethylamylamine (DMAA)
A brief history on DMAA, it was created in 1948 to be used as a nasal decongestant. It had a trademarked named called Forthane. The way the drug worked was via vasoconstriction. The blood vessels in the nose would constrict blood flow, leading to less mucus discharge. This is how many popular over the counter nasal decongestant meds work today but with the absence of DMAA.
Forthane was pulled from shelves in the early 80’s due to dramatic side effects including headaches, tremors, and high blood pressure. DMAA is what’s called a sympathomimetic drug. Which means its mimics the actions of the sympathetic nervous system. On an hourly basis at Champion, we are performing drills and exercises to relax the sympathetic nervous system not stimulate it. We are already stimulated enough!
Supplement companies use this drug because of its high stimulant properties. If DMAA was known to cause ill side effects 30 years ago, how is it still out there for the public to buy? It is in fact banned by the World Doping Agency and reads false positives for amphetamines on urine tests. There is a plethora of scientific journals and facts regarding this subject as well. But what I have learned from a very reputable Physical Therapist and Strength Coach Jeff Cavaliere in March 2011, is that through what we could call a loophole in the “system”, companies can include this ingredient by stating the source of the molecule. The source in this case is geranium oil. Which is an FDA approved food product. DMAA can be extracted from the geranium plant. Some research suggests that extremely small amounts are found in the plant itself. DMAA can also be seen on supplement labels under a giant list of other names including geranium extract, geranium oil extract, and methylhexaneamine, to name a few.
A list of all names and products known to contain the drug can be found here:
Cavaliere was ahead of the curve when he presented the problem with this drug in 2011 and the potential health problems related with a drug that causes the blood vessels to constrict. Constricting blood vessels and arteries, leading to high blood pressure, combined with exercise can be a harmful mix. Lets mix in a high amount of caffeine and even more ingredients with stimulant properties as well. This is when this subject was put on my radar and I began to research possible supplements that contained DMAA. And indeed I found some, and some I had taken in the past. The ingredient pictures shown are from 2 pre-workout supplement labels that I had used about 8 to 10 years ago. They have since been changed…. but why?
After Jeff Cavaliere turned me onto this issue, I discarded the supplements I had…sorry my heart just skipped a beat…. that included this potentially harmful chemical. And I then kept my eye on this topic in the future.
In 2012/2013 the FDA put its foot down on supplement companies, ordering them to pull this already illegal drug. As of April 11, 2013, the FDA received 86 reports of illnesses and deaths associated with supplements containing DMAA. These are just a few case reports associated with deaths and severe health problems linked to DMAA.
- Case Reports: Death of Active Duty Soldiers Following Ingestion of Dietary Supplements Containing 1,3-Dimethylamyliamine
- Cardiac Arrest in a 21-year-old man after ingestion of 1,3-DMAA-containing workout supplement
- Acute Myocardial Infarction Associated with Dietary Supplements Containing 1,3-Dimethylamylamine and Citrus Aurantium
- Exposures to 1,3-dimethylamylamine-containing products reported to Texas poison centers
Hold on it gets better…
Companies began to comply with the FDA’s orders. One popular supplement company, also in April 2013 sent out an email to subscribers about a new formula for their pre workout supplement. Here’s what it stated:
“______has been our #1 selling pre-workout supplement for years and now it is no longer being produced. We are down to two flavors, ______and_______, and what we have in stock is it!! If you want to get your hands on some of the last remaining bottles, you should act fast…quantities on these are extremely limited and quickly selling off. Get it before this original formula is gone forever! Only $21.95!!”
This is complete BS!
Why are they creating a new formula? Because the old one is killing people!! So lets start giving this poison to as many people as we can for a discounted price. Like I said, misleading, sneaky, and deceptive.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) had identified another product by the same company with DMAA in it. They identified 100 people who developed hepatitis from using this product. 47 of those needed hospitalization, 3 needed liver transplants, and 1 died.
What’s the Next Pre-Workout Ingredient to be Banned?
What will be the next ingredient that is in current supplements, to cause as big an uproar as 1, 3 dimeth? I bet you it’s out there.
Here are an unfortunate two possibilities. Beta-methylphenylethylamine (BMPEA) and Synephrine. Both have already had bad press and have been linked to health issues. An article published on WebMD talks about how in April of 2015, the FDA sent warning letters to five supplement companies whose products contain BMPEA, asking them to stop distributing products containing the drug.
This sounds strikingly similar to the beginning of the end of DMAA back in 2012.
In 2012, my cardiologist made me aware of the drug Synephrine. Synephrine, like BMPEA, and DMAA is a powerful stimulant. This was in one of, if not multiple pre workout supplements that I had taken in the past. (Refer back to photos). Synephrine is also disguised in many supplements just as DMAA was. It may also be labeled as Bitter Orange or Citrus Aurantium. Just as DMAA, the source of the drug is being labeled, which helps in the legality. Synephrine is not currently a banned substance.
- STEMI in a 24-year-old man after use of a Synephrine-Containing Dietary Supplement
- Acute myocardial infarction associated with dietary supplements containing 1,3-dimethylamylamine and Citrus aurantium
Is it Worth the Risk?
Think about it, do we really need an exotic plant extract from China to help us lift more weight? Do we need to search for an ingredient buried at opposite ends of the earth to lose 10 pounds?
Work hard for your goals and they will come. What happened to eating properly, getting enough sleep, and staying properly hydrated. That is my pre workout.